Smithfield Town Council considers $6.4 million police station renovation for 2014 ballot

Smithfield Town Council considers $6.4 million police station renovation for 2014 ballot

Questions raised about tax freeze enjoyed by elderly

SMITHFIELD - After a public hearing that raised concerns over the budgetary affect of property tax freezes for the elderly, the Town Council on Dec. 3 accepted from the town manager a proposed capital improvements plan calling for nearly $70 million in spending through 2020.

The council's action was a formality indicating receipt of the plan, but did not constitute approval of spending for any of the items in the proposal submitted by Manager Dennis Finlay.

Among the suggested projects is a $6.4-million renovation for 2015 of the 42-year-old police station, a proposal boosted by endorsement of the town's Financial Review Commission.

Commission members said during the hearing that the station, on Pleasant View Avenue, is overcrowded, in disrepair, and is fraught with security and privacy issues.

They said that police officials have made a compelling case for a renovation bond issue, which, if the plan wins council approval, would be put on the general election ballot in 2014.

Other potential projects for 2015 include $9.6 million for expansion of the Greenville Public Library, $7.5 million for school repairs, and $4 million for a North End fire station at a site to be determined.

The six-year plan, if all the items were approved - a scenario considered highly unlikely - would produce $69.9 million in spending, $45 million of which would be financed with long-term bonds whose interest payments would increase the actual cost to $57 million.

The Town Council decides which projects, if any, make it to the general election ballot.

At the hearing, taxpayer Thomas Robitaille, who frequently advocates fiscal restraint at annual Financial Town Meetings, said the council must pay attention to the effect of property tax freezes for the elderly on the rest of the town's taxpayers.

He said that 24.5 percent of the taxpayers here enjoy the tax freeze for the elderly, which leaves the remaining three-quarters of the taxpaying population to finance increases in municipal spending.

In view of that, he said, the town should seek other ways to raise money, perhaps even through assessments on those who rent property, or increasing vehicle taxes so the financial burden is shared by a wider base of residents.

Another taxpayer, James Ignasher, agreed with Robitaille's concerns, acknowledging that while the elderly exemption is "a political hot potato," its effects should be studied.

The issue is an emotional one and drew immediate comment from taxpayer Joseph O'Connor, who declared facetiously, "I'm terribly sorry I lived to be as old as I am. For 40 years, I paid taxes."

Still, O'Connor said he would be open to an assessment of the situation.

The tax freeze is available to all property owners at least 65 years old, regardless of income.

Another taxpayer, Michael Iannotti, suggested that the council find ways other than bonding to pay for major projects, perhaps by increasing the annual amounts allotted to the capital improvements fund.

Town Council President Alberto LaGreca Jr. replied, "I seriously doubt you'll see a $57-million bond issue on the ballot. I wouldn't be in favor of that."

Still, he said, the speakers raised valid concerns about the tax burden and "Maybe this is something we should look at."

According to municipal Finance Director Randy R. Rossi, the town's current bonded debt of $1.3 million is very low.

Comments

please don't take away tax freeze,I have lived her 30 years
and paid taxes for schools and I don't have children,and this is the only benefit I can get, I'm on a fixed social security income with no pension...THANK YOU PETE TASCA

please don't take away tax freeze,I have lived her 30 years
and paid taxes for schools and I don't have children,and this is the only benefit I can get, I'm on a fixed social security income with no pension...THANK YOU PETE TASCA